The Road that Leads to Heaven

March 14 2018 Road to Heaven.jpg

Not long ago I was driving down the Indian Nation Turnpike in Southeast Oklahoma. Since I was in the car by myself, I had the radio blaring one of my favorite songs. It was by Steven Curtis Chapman and the chorus went like this: “There’s no better place on earth than the road that leads to Heaven.” As I drove and listened, I rejoiced in the truth of those words. Then I thought about the implications of the message in that song. There really is no better place on this earth than on the road that leads to Heaven.

Does that mean the road that leads to Heaven is an easy one? Hardly. It is not a superhighway or an autobahn that allows for speedy, unhindered movement. Sometimes the way of the cross is a slow and torturous route. The road that leads to Heaven is often dotted with trials and tribulations. During their First Missionary Journey, as Paul and Barnabas returned through Lystra and Iconium, in what is modern-day Turkey, they “strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). How did he say we enter the kingdom of God? We enter the kingdom through many “tribulations.” This word is used 47 times in the New Testament and is from a root word meaning to press tightly together, thus creating pressure. It literally means “pressure, affliction, tribulation or distress.” The road that leads to Heaven includes trying times and pressure-filled circumstances. As Christians, we know that every trial or tribulation will work to our benefit, but we still must face afflictions.

Is this road that leads to Heaven the most popular way? No, not at all. Jesus urged His disciples to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14). The first right step on the road to Heaven goes against all our natural inclinations. The first step is not to try hard, live good, give a lot and hope you make it. The first right step is to humble yourself before God, confess your many sins, and simply trust Jesus to do the saving. The broad way leads to pride, the narrow way, to humility. The broad way elevates self, the narrow way exalts the Savior. Even in this fallen world, there is no better place to be than on the road that leads to Heaven!

Why is this road to Heaven the best place to be? Here are three good reasons.

1. The road that leads to Heaven is best because it follows a disciplined way.

This road requires the discipline of Repentance. Jesus said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He confidently stood before the religious elite, commanding repentance, and ended up losing his life because of his boldness preaching against sin (Matthew 14:3-11).

This way that leads to Heaven calls for the discipline of Humility. Jesus answered His disciples’ question about who would be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven by bringing a child before them and saying, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, 4). Haughtiness, pride and arrogance are out of place on this road that leads to Heaven.

The travelers on this road also practice the discipline of Sacrifice. It’s convenient to think Christians can serve God without personal cost, but that is historically inaccurate and biblically unscriptural. Jesus said, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Paul wrote that, “whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

2. The road that leads to Heaven is best because it is a blessed way.

What blessings await those who, through Christ, travel the road to Heaven! Everlasting life itself awaits those on this road. Jesus promised, “whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Believers on this road that leads to Heaven also receive genuine peace with God and access to Him. Paul wrote, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1, 2).

With this in mind, no wonder Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). One writer translates it, “I came that they may have life, I mean really live!” The road that leads to Heaven is a blessed path.

3.  The road that leads to Heaven is best because it is the only way!

Access to this road is only through faith in Jesus Christ! Not just any path or way you choose will lead to Heaven. The Lord Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6). The road that leads to Heaven is an exclusive way. It is only through Jesus, through faith and trust in Him.

Friend, there is a road that leads to Heaven, and it goes through Jesus Christ. After all, there is no better place on earth than the road that leads to Heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

The Wonder of the Word

March 7 2018 The Word.jpg

A week of work had gone into the preparation of my Sunday sermon. More than twenty hours of study, research and alliteration that preachers do, had been poured into that message. Then, in a flash the computer monitor flickered and it was all gone. The entire sermon disappeared into cyberspace, never to be preached nor seen again. The worst part of this loss was that it occurred early on a Sunday morning as I was putting the finishing touches to it, before preaching it at 11:00. So, I sat down, for I had stood up when it passed, and wrote out as much as I could remember, while I prayed hard for recall of the rest. God heard my desperate prayer and blessed with most of what I remembered as I preached that sermon.

Written words, manuscripts, books and articles are so fragile. In a heartbeat the work of a week, or the accumulation of a lifetime, can be gone. Julius Caesar burned his ships in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, in 47 B.C., to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. He did not realize it, but the fire quickly spread to the docks, the naval arsenal, then to the great library of Alexandria. In a short while he had destroyed more than 400,000 ancient scrolls of that great library, the largest of its time.

This fact makes the preservation of our Bible an amazing truth. God’s Word has survived floods, fires, riots, book burnings, persecutions and catastrophes. The Bible has been inerrantly preserved through three and a half millennia. Isaiah revealed this great promise around 700 B.C., “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It stood then. It stands now. It will stand forever!

Archeological finds constantly reinforce the truth of Isaiah’s words. One of the greatest discoveries of recent history occurred in 1947 among eleven caves by Wadi Qumran, that came to be called, the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), as the Roman army advanced, the Essene community hid thousands of ancient scrolls and manuscripts among the caves of Qumran. These caves, 1300 feet below sea level, on the western shores of the Dead Sea, with their extremely arid conditions, darkness and low humidity, were the perfect environment for storing velum (animal skin) and papyrus scrolls.

The scrolls of Qumran were hand copied between 250 BC and AD 68. Archaeologists have discovered 972 manuscripts and over 15,000 fragments. Included with some non-biblical books, are scrolls and fragments of thirty-eight of the thirty-nine Old Testament books. The only Old Testament book not discovered in Qumran is Esther. Among the scrolls and fragments, scholars found 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms.

Another amazing fact is that there are only minimal variations in the manuscript texts compared to the Bible versions we have today. One Isaiah scroll, almost intact, is 1,000 years older than any existing manuscript, but when translated, reads almost identically to the book of Isaiah in our Bibles today. They are incredibly accurate, even after 1,000 years of hand copying. This verifies the accuracy of Bible manuscripts that were handed down over centuries and millennia of time. It is remarkable when you consider the scrolls were hidden in Qumran almost two thousand years ago.

These archaeological facts make the words of Scripture about itself ring ever more true. The psalmist wrote, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89), and “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160). Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18), and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The Apostle Peter wrote, “But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).

This Word that is eternal, inspired and inerrant is alive, active, and able to reach within the thoughts and intents of your heart and mind if you will read it. Listen to this description of what God’s Word can do: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

God’s Word is also applicable. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). God’s Word does not reach its full purpose and power to impact life until its truths are applied to the human heart. This Word of God can make you “adequate” and “equipped for every good work.” If you will read and study the Bible, it can equip you for all the good works He calls you to do.

As you open your Bible to hear from God, stop a moment to reflect on how precious it is. Ask God to speak to your heart through its words. Will you also pray for those who still do not have a Bible in their native tongue? Pray for dedicated Christian linguists who are translating Scripture into the heart language of these people. Then, pray also for those who cannot own Bibles of their own, or who are persecuted for doing so. They, as well as we, need the amazing Word of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We There Yet?

Feb 28, 2018 There Yet.jpg

A few years ago Pat, Deborah Sue and I were returning from a long and very tiring trip. After thirteen days of living out of suitcases, we were anxious to get home. And as kids are prone to do, every few hours Deborah Sue would ask, “Are we there yet?”

In the struggles and trials of life, with its sadness and unseen, often unexpected difficulties, God’s children often ask the same question: “Are we there yet?” “When will we be home?” “When will this be over?”

The words of Jesus in John 16:33 give hope for all who have asked those questions about their lives on this planet. Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

In His Word we have hope. In Jesus we have peace. But in the world we have tribulation. The good news is that even the most severe trials in this world will turn out well because Jesus has overcome the world. Though for now, we long for everything to be well, and for our trials to be over, we are not home yet. We are still in a sin-plagued world.

God’s children through faith in Christ, are citizens of two worlds, of two spheres, two dimensions. They are both citizens of heaven (spiritually) and citizens of this world (physically). Believers in Christ today live in constant tension because they are “in Christ,” yet, at the same time, they are “in the world.” Now, we are in the world for a reason, as Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world….. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18). For the present, we have dual citizenship, but, some day when we get home to Heaven, our physical and spiritual address will be the same!

In the meantime we are to serve God in this world. God did not leave His children in the world for their benefit, but for His. We must constantly remind ourselves that this world is not our home, but we are merely passing through. Tribulations and trials are the norm here, but not there! That is why Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:12, 13). By inspiration, Peter wrote that fiery trials, tragedies and tough times were not to be considered “strange,” surprising or novel, for Christ’s followers. Though this is difficult to do, Christians should not be shocked by suffering, for we live in a fallen world where our adversary is “the prince of the power of the air(Ephesians 2:2).

Peter revealed that trials and tribulations were ultimately to help the Christian develop patience, endurance, faithfulness, purity and Christian character. Trials enable believers to partake in Christ’s sufferings, and will result in “praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).  Thomas Moore (1779-1852) worded it beautifully when he wrote: “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” There is no hurt, deprivation or tribulation we will endure here, but that will be healed in Heaven. If we would cope well with loss and deficiency, we must take the long view of difficult events. Steven Estes spoke truth when he wrote: “Every sorrow we taste will one day prove to the be best possible thing that could have happened. We will thank God endlessly in Heaven for the trials He sent us here. This is not Disneyland—it is truth” (Steven Estes, “When God Weeps,” page 56).

So in the midst of the storm, do not despair! Do not lose hope. Remember, as with Jesus, so with saints, first the cross, then the crown! Do not forget: In the midst of struggles and losses, we are not home yet. Steven Curtis Chapman used that phrase for an inspiring song:

I know there’ll be a moment, I know there’ll be a place                       

Where we will see our Savior, And fall in His embrace              

So let us not grow weary, Or be too content to stay                            

Cause we are not home yet, We are not home yet              

So keep on looking ahead, Let your heart not forget                            

We are not home yet…Not home yet!

Jesus has prepared a place for every believer, where you will be in heaven, with Him and loved ones gone before; home forever! Jesus promised, “In My Father’s house are many dwellng places…I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

We are not home yet, but when Christ returns for His saints, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them (believers who have died) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

We will never again repeat: “Are we there yet?” For we will be Home Forever!

 

 

 

 

 

Be Prepared!

Feb 21 2018 Prepared Pix.jpg

Scouting is the characteristic activity and occupation of a Boy Scout or Girl Scout as part of the Scout movement. The purpose of the Scouts is to help develop character, citizenship and individual skills.

For both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the motto, “Be Prepared” means the Scout is always to be in a state of readiness in mind and body to do their duty.

Few people know the story behind the Scout motto. In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier, came up with the motto: Be Prepared. It was published in “Scouting for Boys” in 1908, two years before Boy Scouts of America was founded here. Though the Boy Scouts was a service-minded organization—not a military one—Baden-Powell called on the Scouts to play a part in defending his island nation. World War I was looming and the Boy Scouts proved valuable helpers. Winston Churchill wrote in “Scouting Magazine” (1955), “Their keen eyes were added to the watchers along the coasts. In the air raids we saw the spectacle of children of 12 and 14 performing with perfect coolness and composure the useful function assigned to them in the streets and public offices.”

To Baden-Powell, “Be Prepared” was not just about first aid, but that Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body, to meet whatever challenge awaited him, with a strong heart.

When you think about preparation and planning, you realize the words “Be Prepared” is a great motto for many avenues of life. Would you enjoy a concert where the orchestra was composed of untrained musicians? What if the instrumentalists had not even practiced together before the concert? What if they were totally unprepared?

Would you attend an event where there were no ushers to seat you, or programs to guide you through the performance? What if every musician was playing at once, but from a different sheet of music?

Would you demand a refund if, when you entered the theatre and finally located your seat, the orchestra was only partially filled? Would it bother you if late-arriving band members noisily set up their music stands and honked, twisted, strummed and hummed, as they tuned their instrument? Would you promptly make your exit and determine not to attend such a concert again? Sure you would!

When it comes to being prepared, as a Christian, we should strive to be ready to serve Jesus, no matter what, when or where. Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ have much more to offer people than the finest symphony orchestra. The true ministry of the Lord’s churches is more important, because churches are all about God, the Bible and eternal issues! True churches are God’s chosen medium for communicating His Word to this age, which affects lives for eternity.

However, the question we must answer is, are we doing our best for Jesus? Just as an untrained, undisciplined, unconcerned orchestra could never produce beautiful music, so churches that have untrained, undisciplined or unconcerned teachers and leaders can never produce that Christ-honoring service He so richly deserves! Church members who would never be late for work, will always be early for a ball game, but who drag in, sleepy-eyed, after the worship or Bible class has started, are certainly not prepared to give their best in honor of the King. We can do better! Be Prepared!

If we would please God with our service, we must:

  • PLAN! Great work for God begins with planning! Think about your church. Put yourself in the place of a visitor and walk through the lobby, classrooms, nursery, bathrooms and sanctuary. Look for areas of improvement to the facility. How does it smell? Is the facility well lighted? Is it neat and clean in appearance? Are the greeters friendly and well-informed about your church facility, schedule and events? Share your findings with the pastor or deacons and ask them to arrange for the needed improvements. If at all possible, churches must remove physical barriers that turn people away or hinder them from coming.

 

  • PREPARE! Our public school teachers are trained for years before they ever stand before a class of students. However, in a church, too often, to be a teacher only requires a warm body. Bible teachers handle eternal truth and should be trained and knowledgeable, so they will be prepared. Talk to the pastor or Sunday School superintendent about initiating training for every job in the church. Potential volunteers do not know how to do what is needed, and must be taught! If a church offers training for ushers, greeters, teachers, nursery-keepers and other jobs, people will volunteer to help. Preparation is half the battle!

 

  • PRODUCE! An effective, trained and motivated staff of church workers will have a positive effect on the whole church. Organization, training and motivation produce participation. The Bible teaches that the Lord adds to His church and that every church member has a duty to serve as part of that church body (1 Corinthians 12). When members faithfully serve Christ in their church, the church can function effectively, ministering to the community in which it is established. God never planned for His House to be filled with unprepared, non-serving, pew-warming members!

God’s work is too important to be left to chance! We need to PLAN, PREPARE and PRODUCE, for Jesus sake!

 

 

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Valentine’s Day–But Were Afraid to Ask

Feb 14, 2018 Saint Valentine's day.png

Valentine’s Day is a holiday most people know very little about. In our era it is a day to celebrate love for your spouse, or special friend. We celebrate it by exchanging “Valentine” cards, while giving chocolate or roses, to the person of our affection. Every year 144,000,000 (One hundred forty four million) Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged in the United States, (not including packaged kid’s valentines for classroom exchanges), and an estimated 1 billion worldwide. This means that Valentine’s Day is the second-largest holiday for giving greetings cards. So, what is behind all this sweet talking Valentine’s Day giving?

This special day had a more solemn origin and much deeper purpose than most people realize. The man who became known as Saint Valentine was a godly minister in Rome during the 3rd century. According to “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” written by John Foxe in 1583, Valentinus lived during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, a ruler known for his brutal persecution of Christians. This godly man refused to deny Jesus, though the emperor threatened, and eventually, took his life on February 14. Not only did Valentinus courageously stand for Christ, he fed, sheltered and comforted persecuted Christians during those dark days leading up to his imprisonment. He boldly refused to worship the Roman pagan gods. While imprisoned, Valentinus witnessed about Christ and led many others to believe in Him as Savior. He even shared the gospel of Christ with Emperor Claudius, who was so enraged that he had Valentinus beaten and beheaded.

On the day of his death, Valentinus sent a letter to a young lady, his jailer’s daughter and closest friend, who visited him in his imprisonment. In the note, he declared his love for her, wished her well and signed the letter, “from your Valentine,” as his farewell. According to tradition, his execution day was February 14, A. D. 270. This act of love began to be repeated by other Christian martyrs who were about to die, thus setting the pattern of expressing undying love in the face of difficulties. This ritual of sending a love letter or note on Valentine’s Day became a tradition, though few understand the ancient historical setting. Valentine’s Day began, not just as a symbol of love, but of true Christian love.

Valentinus possessed such a deep affection for Christ that he was willing to face martyrdom, rather than to deny Him. Until recent years most believers in the West only knew of Christian martyrs in history books. However, the renewed hatred of Christ and Christians here and in other parts of the world has brought the possibility of martyrdom to the West in the 21st century.

Though Valentine’s Day is famous for romantic tokens of love among men and women, it originally was famous for the way a martyr could love Christ so deeply, he would willingly die, rather than deny Him. This day also became a day to remember persecuted Christians who loved so selflessly; they gave their own life-blood. God’s word reminds Christian people to remember, love and care for those persecuted for their faith: “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:1-3).

God demonstrated the greatest expression of love for mankind when He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loved humanity enough to give His Son. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus offered His life on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins.

The unlimited love God has for lost and helpless humanity is summed up in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

It is important to understand that God’s great love originates with Him, not with us. It is not our great love that brings His salvation to us, but His great love for us! John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God loves us unconditionally, despite our sins and failures.

When God’s love is received and appropriated by faith, it has a compassionate effect on us—“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Love by God to us and by us to Him results in our love for others. John wrote, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

No matter how much you understand about the background, the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” communicate affection and the desire for closer relationship, and is based on the greatest, most compassionate love this world has seen, God’s love for us through Jesus Christ! Enjoy your day!

Run with Endurance

180207 Feb 7 Photo.jpg

For many years, the most difficult ultra-marathon race was the Westfield Run in Australia. The 544-mile course from Sydney to Melbourne was considered the longest and toughest endurance race in the world. Only the top class and most fit marathon runners, usually 20-30 years of age, competed.

In 1983 a 61 year-old man named Cliff Young signed up to run the race. When he showed up for the start he was wearing overalls and work boots. The race organizers tried to discourage him from participating, thinking he could easily die during the agonizing race, but he insisted on running. He told them that, though he did not have much experience in competitive races, he grew up chasing sheep around a 2,000 acre farm in the state of Victoria, so he thought he was able to run the race.

When the race started, the runners left Cliff far behind. Race fans and the media made sport of him and his goofy-looking slow loping pace, with gumboots plopping every step. However, when the runners stopped each night, Cliff kept running. After three days, sometime during the night, while the lead runners slept, Cliff took the lead. Not only did he take the lead, he kept it and won the race, breaking the previous record by 9 hours. Cliff completed the 544 mile course in 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes. He crossed the finish line more than 10 hours ahead of his nearest rival.

Cliff was surprised when they awarded him $10,000 dollars in prize money. He gave his winnings to the other runners, saying he only ran to prove to himself that he could do it. When interviewed afterwards Cliff told the reporters that as he ran, he would imagine he was running after sheep, trying to outrun a storm. Because of his enormous feat, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for long distance running in 1984. Cliff became the icon of endurance running, logging more than 20,000 kilometers in competitions for 16 years after his Westfield victory, even competing in a six-day race in Victoria in 2000, when he was 78 years old. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 81, and today a memorial in the shape of a gumboot is prominent at the Cliff Young Park in Beech Forest, Victoria.

Though there has been a newfound popularity of long distance running competitions, it is really not new. Our term “marathon,” used to designate the modern 26.2-mile race, is rooted in ancient Greek history, named after the Battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C. In that battle, the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon, then Philippides, a Greek messenger, was dispatched to Athens to share the news. He ran the 26 miles without stopping, and burst into the assembly, proclaiming, “we have won,” then collapsed and died.

The ancient Olympics began before the 7th century B.C., and members of first-century churches were familiar with several different competitive running and athletic events like the Isthmus Games, held the second and fourth years of each Olympiad. These spirited events were used in Scripture as illustrations of the need of discipline, training, patience, endurance and achievement. God inspired the writer of Hebrews to use the running metaphor to show how believers in Christ were to live the Christian life in this world.

For Christians to live for Christ in this world is not like a sprint of 50 or 100 yards, where the runner exerts himself for a few seconds; but is more like an ultra-marathon, requiring pacing, planning and endurance. So, how can you run the race as a Believer, to the glory of God? To run this race you must:

1) Forsake Sin. Recognize, confess and abandon known sins that entangle and overcome      you—“Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”             (Hebrews 12:1). You could never win a race with a 10 pound weight on each foot. Neither can you run the race for Christ entangled and weighed down by known sin.

2) Endure Hardship. Faithfully and patiently run the race God has for you—“And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). To live for Christ requires endurance and determination. You must stay the course, tolerate the pain and             keep in the race, no matter what the cost.

3) Focus on Jesus. Pleasing Jesus is your goal, so don’t lose sight of Him—“Fixing our eyes              on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). Live a life patterned after            Jesus, His sacrifice, His love, His forgiveness, and His compassion. Never lose sight of             the finish line. Stay in the race for the long haul.

4) Don’t Quit. Disappointment and discouragement have lost many races and ruined many lives, so—“Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Think about what Jesus sacrificed for your salvation.

If a 61 year-old sheep farmer can win a 544 mile marathon, imagine what you can do running your race to live for Christ in this world! Remember: The Race is not always to the swift—but to those who keep on running!

 

Heaven Help the Home!

180131 PIX HomeSweetHome.jpgFor many of us, the words “home” and “family” prompt thoughts of warmth, loving people, assurance, kind words, good food, fun times and open honesty. At this time of year, following the winter holidays, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be part of a loving Christian family. There is literally nothing like it in this world!

A book on the home and family, written by Howard Hendricks, “Heaven Help the Home,” inspired the title of this devotional. It was a helpful paperback full of instructions and practical advice for the family during difficult days. The need for God’s intervention in the home has not lessened, but increased in manifold ways. Most researchers point to the breakdown of the home as a major contributor to the ills in our society today.

I love what Charles Swindoll wrote about the family. “Home is where life makes up its mind. It is there—with fellow family members—we hammer out our convictions on the anvil of relationships. It is there we cultivate the valuable things in life, like attitudes, memories, beliefs and most of all, character.” Nothing can take the place of God’s purpose for the home.

God’s Word employs several beautiful metaphors for children and the family that are both enlightening and instructive. In Psalm 128 He reminds us of His blessings on the homes of God-fearing people. The Psalmist wrote: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (verses 3-6). Here the Lord pictured the wife as a fruitful vine, and the children as little olive plants situated around the table. Both the grape vine and the olive plant were fruitful, helpful, life enriching and very valuable. In these verses the Lord wants us to understand that wives and children are precious blessings to be treasured and cherished. Don’t you love to gather around the table and hold hands as a family as you offer prayers of thanksgiving to the God who made it all possible?

Another Bible passage that pictures children in the home is found in Psalm 127:3-5, where it reads, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Did you notice how God pictures children? Through the psalmist Solomon, God says a child is “a gift,” “fruit” and “a reward.” Offspring are also compared to “arrows” and the man is “blessed,” whose “quiver” is full of them. These divine descriptions of children suggest their great potential. Gifts are enjoyable, fruit is part of a harvest and a reward is a great prize. Also, like arrows, children can and should be equipped and dispatched to duties and places far beyond the reach of their parents, as they are released from the quiver.

Several years ago, we set aside six Sunday nights, to show a family film series in our church. The individual lessons are long forgotten, but the most memorable thing about, “Turn Your Heart Toward Home,” was the introduction. Every week the film began the same way. The music and words would sound as the camera showed a young soldier riding and then stepping down from a bus, onto a gravel road. As he slung his duffle bag over his shoulder and walked up to the old farmhouse, his mother spied him through the front window, dropped what she was doing and ran to meet him. The boy’s father and younger sister also ran to embrace their long-absent son and brother. The response of the congregation was amazing. As the introduction opened, the same scene unfolded, and our people responded in the same way—with shedding of tears. There would not be a dry eye in the church house! The fact is, my eyes are moist now as I remember the scene and type this.

Why is that? It happened because in the entire world, in every generation, there is no institution so precious, no group so valuable, no organization as irreplaceable as the family. Charles Colson said: “Ordained by God as the basic unit of human organization, the family is the first school of human instruction. Parents take small, self-centered monsters, who spend much of their time screaming defiantly and hurling peas on the carpet, and teach them to share, to wait their turn, to respect others’ property. These lessons translate into respect for others, self-restraint, obedience to law—in short, into the virtues of individual character that are vital to a society’s survival.”

The value of children, those little olive plants around your table are enormous. The potential of children, those little arrows from your quiver, aimed and dispensed into the future, is immense. Our hopes depend upon them. Every church had better be intentional about instructing parents, assisting families and teaching children. Henry Drummond, who lived a century ago, wrote, “The family circle is the supreme conductor of Christianity,” and that is exactly true! The genuine Christian family is a billboard reflecting the beauty and effect of the gospel.